II: In Search for a Beverage of Their Own
In case you don't know it, the Left has been brewing up their very own Tea Party, though I don't believe it is immediately associated with any specific beverage as of yet; I mean aside from the typical patriots' rousing mug of righteous indignation over governmental abuse. That's right, liberals apparently can still get riled up enough about governmental abuse to take to the streets too just like the big bad Tea Party, except when liberals protest, such as the recent nationwide Mad Day marches, it's really big and not really bad.
One might have forgotten that liberals are traditionally the go-to "protest about injustice" kind of crowd, with a pedigree that goes all the way back to the old "taxation without representation" days of protest history. To watch the way the media's covered since the 08 election and considering the limp push back liberals gave to Obama during his few months in the Whitehouse, one might've thought there was no "left" left. Well, those days are over, 1070 was a much-needed wake-up for the left of the massing anger and insolence on the right. In the basic dynamic of a democracy, the liberals will have to fight back to keep the social balance. Just like the populist movements of the 1880s, or the anti-establishment/anti-war movement of the 1960s, this anti-1070 movement has all the standard features of a nascent grassroots groundswell.
You can tell by going to a rally. There were all types of liberals protesting SB 1070 that morning, just like a tea party crowd ...well, at least a little like anyway, but in an absolutely opposite non-bizarro world sort of way. They have people who are screaming mad about legitimate injustices; they have people who are just shouting because they like to shout anyway. They have folks brimming with passion and articulate explications of their movement's talking point version of a world view; and they've got folks who thought up their most snide 10 word retort, scrawled it on a sign, and now have nothing else left to say. They've got elders trying to save their vision of their America and children just learning to believe; they've got folks in funny costumes and the newly politicized first-timer activists, and even a few sign makers who are still practicing their spelling.
See, just like a regular tea party except without all the aggressive racism, sexism, militarism, downright smug anti-environmentalism, and out and out self-serving greed that are the hallmarks of the stagnated conservative movement that, last month, thought it held the copyright on the idea of patriots walking together out in the street to profess one's love and image of country. Which bring to mind that when it comes to draping one's self in the flag the Tea Party has met its match.
At Tea Party events, the fashion disasters usually take flag motifs and/or colors and re-pattern them into new functional, thought wretchedly gaudy, item of clothing usually involving a hot glue gun and/or fabric paint. At the May Day Anti-SB 1070 parade, it was the flags themselves that were worn or carried. By the dozens, the US flag, the Arizona flag, wrapped like blankets around smiling faces. It sometimes looked like citizens being born before our very eyes.
But before we get lost in the esoteric of the meaning of flags as a fashion accessory, first let's address a more immediate and simpler question: What about that beverage thing? They can't call themselves the coffee party. Somebody already took that and it sounds to copy-cat to be cool anyway. So the left will have to self-identify with some other beverage if they hope to brand themselves into the public consciousness. In this modern age a movement that can't generate product placement won't amount to much more than a wiggle. So, if the nationwide liberal/ethnic hybrid movement that rose up in response to AZ's immigration follies were to actually come up with a beverage worthy of self-identification, its beverage of choice would probably have to be "water."
Water for all the bottles of water spontaneously bought and freely distributed at the rallies and along march routes, water for the gallon jugs you see copiously set out along highways, supposedly a criminal offense of mercy in the southeast corner of our state. As you probably know, the same ranchers who erroneously blamed immigrants for the murder of Cochise County rancher Robert Krentz so they could have a straw man to propagandize with, would insist that offering humanitarian aid to lost immigrants is to be treated like a crime and a gallon jug of water is just littered trash in the desert, especially if it might help a dying person to live.
It's those kind of people who briefly considered drafting Arpaio for governor, before Joe backed out of the deal. Which might have been a wise move for Sheriff Joe to stick to his day job, what with the Tea Party people looking a little less hearty these days in the face of the impressive superiority in marching numbers that the ethnic/liberal hybrid amassed this past May Day. Tea Partiers met with paltry crowds at their vaunted Tax Day protests, then at their paranoia-inducing armed protests in and around DC, April 19th--AKA "The fizzle snickered about around the world." Even with Dick Armey's Freedom Works and theirs deep pockets of war-bucks, when the hoopla settled both events fired duds, mere tempests in a ... well, you know.
Now, AZ's hot new immigration law, and Arpaio as its poster boy, are facing the backlash as the "civil liberties patriots" clash with the "defend the empire patriots." In this case, just as submerged resentment at Obama's blackness merged with right-wing fears of losing control of the country caused the Tea Party to coalesce, the overt racism and hatefulness of SB 1070 has given a wide range of liberals an outrage they can react to.
Remember back in pre-election 2008 when we wondered if America was grown up enough to deal with the "whole race deal." Well, now we know. We aren't worthy.
Case in point, if the AZ Senate's SB1070 wasn't enough to make you wonder about the racist intent in the legislation, or the mentality of the men who claim to run this state for the public good, then you had to be scratching your heads when the AZ House followed suit the following week with a separate bill, HB 2281, which bans ethnic studies courses, and clubs and sacks any teachers with thick accents. According to Jennifer Allen of the Border Action Network, there wasn't any real doubt as to the intentions of the AZ Lege'. "There's no real good public good intended."
Counting the hundreds of thousands who took to the streets on May Day, you can bet many of the protests around the country involved first-timers embracing the bracing empowerment of activism, much like the way the Tea Party's equally flamboyant events brought older white voters out into the streets for the first time, at first. As with the rampant naïveté and weak grammatical skills of novice Tea Partiers, those who massed in courtyard of the capitol building in Phoenix had their own share of English language limitations. You may recall all the postings of pics of inept Tea Party Sloganeering which led to the invention of a new term, "tea-bonics," to describe the plethora of misspelled and garbled political messages on the signs at Tea Party rallies. My favorite teabonically misspelled sign from the May Day rally read, "Define Reasonable Doubt: 1. Is it the Vechile I Drive? 2. Attire I Wear 3. My Brown Skin."
Of course it might be noted: first, that there were very few signs with such spelling errors; and, second, that unlike Tea Partiers, at least many of the thousands attending the Phoenix May Day spontaneous demonstration have an excuse for their problems with the English language--it is for many of them it is a second language; unlike so many Tea Partiers who have only ever attempted English and still gained no mastery of it.
By and large, however, spelling was not an issue for the thousands who gathered in Phoenix; and their spontaneous enthusiasm took many on the Left by surprise. "There wasn't any actual event, march or whatever organized for the afternoon. It was spontaneous in Phoenix. It went amazingly well since there was not central organization," Allen noted. "None of the major organizing groups were there or had been campaigning for a march. There was a small gathering expected that morning, but the rest of it was the people. They just kept showing up and showing up. It was just regular citizens who felt they needed to do something and went to the capitol to let their voices be heard."
Veteran Canadian activist Azami Ishihara who was in town to catch the Phoenix stop of L.A. Legend S.A. Griffin's "Poetry Bomb Tour" and also attended the rally noticed the same thing when she show up midday. "I had been to several events and protests in Canada and at first, I was really surprised. I thought it really lacked structure. Usually there is a speaker, people guiding the event along, and none of that was visible. Which makes the size and success of the event fairly impressive then if there were no leaders, realizing now that it was unorganized. More and more people just kept showing up. For a long time there were just folks milling around, then the march just started to form up. It's like the people were teaching themselves how to protest."
Understand, elsewhere throughout the country this past May Day various marches had been planned, just not in Phoenix. At least not planned, even thought May First, May Day, has traditionally been a day of some kind of celebration, or protest pretty much world-wide going back at least till the middle ages. This year over the over 80 immigration rallies that stepped off on, were already scheduled for the date, well before that disaster widely known as SB1070, hit the national fan.
Across the country there were major protests in L.A., New York, Dallas, & DC-- 100,000s (Get that, Tea Party? Hundreds of Thousands) of sympathetic marchers joined the 20,000 spontaneous Phoenix area patriots who flash-mobbed the Legislature. At the Whitehouse protest, Illinois Congressmen Luis Gutierrez was arrested for civil disobedience along with 30+ others.
Here in Phoenix the epicenter of the action, May Day turned out to be a long protest day in the capitol city. Too bad it was a Saturday and everyone was gone. Russell Pearce, John Huppenthal and Ron Gould could have attempted to reenact the Alamo with real Mexicans.
In fact, comically on May 2nd more than one news source around the nation noted that the AZ protests were smaller than in comparable cities around the country. One politician quipped in Phoenix folks are afraid to protest lest they get detained.
Next Week, Part Three
--mikel weisser writes from the left coast of AZ.